An Oregon school with no school buses

Bus service to W.L. Henry Elementary School in Hillsboro, Oregon was cut in 2009 due to budget constraints.

“It has had a negative impact on our students,” according to Marianna Roman a Hispanic outreach coordinator at the school.

All students live within a mile of the school, which is why under current state law they are ineligible to be reimbursed by the state for the cost of busing.

Losing bus service created an inconvenience and also added one more barrier for families already struggling. W.L. Henry Elementary is identified as one of the nation’s highest poverty schools. More than three-quarters of its students are English Language Learners.

How do students get to school now? In most cases, they walk.

A mile may not seem like much, but for kindergarteners, it’s a walk traversed on streets with no sidewalks and speeding cars. During the school year, the walk to school is made on mornings that are often foggy, dark and raining. Students sometimes arrive late, cold and wet. Many times, they lack appropriate clothing because access to proper gear just isn’t an option due to family budget constraints.

Just as a hungry student has trouble focusing, it’s equally difficult when they are cold and wet from a walk in inclement weather. Last fall, the school put out a reminder about staying safe due to recent accidents with children walking to school.

The option to walk or bike to school can be beneficial. But in the case of W.L. Henry Elementary, it simply isn’t safe.

Earlier this month, parents from W.L. Henry Elementary shared their safety concerns with the Oregon Legislature in a letter to the House Committee on Education.

They wrote: “Since children are walking to school alone, even the youngest kindergarten students, we worry about their ability to appropriately walk to school. …Our streets lack sidewalks in some places and adequate street lights. Cars often go faster than the speed limit and do not follow pedestrian traffic laws. Some of the younger students do not know how to safely cross streets. While most students know to push the flashing crosswalk light, many cars choose not to stop. Residents of the area often fail to look for students when backing out of their driveways. There have been numerous reports of children almost being hit by a car, and parents and others that walk students to school have been hit by cars.”

Their school faces a high rate of chronic absenteeism, with many missing more than 10% of the school year as defined by Oregon standards. This rate is higher neighboring Eastwood Elementary, a school comparable in its student makeup and federal classification as a high-poverty school. The main difference between the two? Eastwood Elementary has bus service. “We know kids are falling through the cracks, and this [lack of busing] is another reason,” said Roman.

“…On December 7th and 14th, when temperatures were in the 20s, attendance decreased by 89%. …Providing transportation for our students would improve their health, safety and attendance,” shared Principal Lisa Aguilar.

Funding transit services to meet increasing demand and to connect communities, as well as providing safe walking and biking routes to schools for kids, are urgent transportation needs for Oregon.

The experience of families at W.L. Henry Elementary provides insight into exactly why safe routes to school and funding for transit services should be among state legislators’ top transportation priorities this year.

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